Your resume is beautiful…and it’s tanking your job search

Working in the executive recruitment space, we have seen our share of good and bad resumes. Each year seems to bring about new and increasingly stylized resume template trends, but while lovely, these templates will tank your job search right out of the gate.

As we have discussed previously, most resumes submitted electronically with job applications are initially read by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs), not humans. Simply put, the robots have your resume and those pretty columns, text blocks, and graphics do not compute. When an ATS can’t find your name and contact information, your application process is over before it begins.

We understand that stylized resumes are the standard in some sectors, such as graphic design, but some form of chronological resume formatting is appropriate for most industries. Here are three ways to make your resume ATS-friendly and increase your visibility.

Choose a style

There are three common resume styles: chronological, functional, and hybrid. A chronological resume highlights career progression and stability in reverse-chronological order. Functional resumes turn the spotlight on categorical lists of skills with a simple job history list at the end to de-emphasize job movement. However, the format itself implies you may have something to hide, so we do not recommend using it. Hybrid resumes use the chronological resume layout with the added skills list of the functional style, creating a well-rounded and keyword dense resume that works best with ATS technology. We recommend using the hybrid format to create a master resume that can be tailored as needed for application submissions. More on that later.

Formatting the page

When it comes to ATS compatibility, headers, footers, and tables are fine, but text boxes and columns are out. Your resume may be read on a variety of devices and operating systems, and simple formatting will result in the most consistent appearance. Use standard, common fonts (10 to 12 point) to ensure cross-platform compatibility, and avoid font styling such as small caps, which cannot be read by all platforms and ATSs. One-inch margins are ideal for print, and the minimum universal print margin is half an inch on all sides. Do not use a margin smaller than this. Include a professional summary and a list of relevant skills. Group multiple positions at one company under a common company header with full employment duration. List dates for each role next to the job title. Include company information and use bulleted lists to outline relevant experience and accomplishments. Do not include volunteer work or awards which are not relevant to the role. Unless specifically requested by an application, maintain a reference list in a separate document and do not include it with an application.

Formatting the information

First, let’s clarify common misconceptions:

  • A job description is a list of all responsibilities. This is not a resume.
  • A resume is a collection of “greatest hits” that tells prospective employers what you have accomplished.
  • A job posting is a checklist of what a prospective employer wants.

Keep a master resume that outlines your complete work history in “3D” format. Use bullet points to describe a situation or task, define your role and contribution, and deliver a measurable outcome.

Job description:
– Responsible for company safety program.

3D bullet point:
– Revised and managed the company’s struggling safety program (describe): conducted regular safety training presentations, conducted spot checks, and implemented corrective actions to ensure OSHA compliance and use of best practices (define). Reduced recordable incidents by 75% in first year and maintained zero recordable incidents for a two-year period (deliver).

Your resume should speak directly (and truthfully) to the job for which you are applying. Tailor copies of your resume for different application submissions using job postings to determine your most relevant experience. Keep track of applications and resume versions with our free tools, and when you interview onsite, be sure to take extra copies of the appropriate resume version for your interview team.

You’ve worked hard to get to where you are and put a lot of thought and effort into creating a professional resume. Make your application a good first impression on ATSs and hiring managers alike. Following these steps can help to ensure that your resume accurately represents your accomplishments, capabilities, and potential value to employers.